Recently, Carl Gagliano, a longtime Auburn resident, told me he was sending to his grandchildren my last piece in The Auburn Villager called “Sundry Words of Wisdom.” This warmed my heart, and I decided to expand on my last piece by adding some more reflections on wisdom. So, Carl, this is for you and your family.
1. “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” As I recollect, these are the words of an ancient Chinese proverb, as quoted by Peter Benenson, the founder of Amnesty International at a Human Rights Day ceremony on Dec. 10, 1961. For me, this quote reminds me to be a positive person, not someone who always thinks negatively about life and other persons.
2. Eliminate such words as foe, enemy and déclassé or (person of inferior status) from your vocabulary. This thought comes from the late Archbishop Helder Camara from Brazil in his book, "The Desert is Fertile." These words are clearly connected to quote number one.
Positively, it means to treat others with respect, no matter their race, color, ethnicity or creed. These words are similar to the Confucian silver creed, "Do not do to others, what you would not want others to do to you." As such, it’s a negative formulation of the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
We must not pigeonhole people we meet, but treat them graciously and with respect. In this connection I’m reminded of the slogan my wife, Nancy, gave to her hospice staff, who dealt with the last days of people’s lives from every strata of society, namely, “Gently without Judgment.”
3. A person is rich in proportion to what he or she can do without. These are words of wisdom from Henry David Thoreau. These words take on greater significance today when we have to get back to simple living in order to save the planet. These words took on meaning for me when I was teaching the capstone course in sustainability with Dennis De Vries from the Fisheries Department at Auburn University.
In this connection I understand sustainability to mean living in such a way so that our children and grandchildren can meet their own future needs, just as we can meet ours. We all came into the world with nothing, and there’s nothing we can take with us as we depart planet Earth.
In this regard, I have been heavily influenced by my teachers in the Franciscan tradition, including Jacapone da Todi (1230-1306), a Franciscan poet and mystic, who lived simply and said “poverty is to have nothing, to desire nothing, yet to possess everything in the spirit of liberty.”
4. “Nobody cares about how much you know, until they know how much you care.” These are the words of Teddy Roosevelt (1858-1919). These words speak for themselves.
5. Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. I define creativity as the ability to go beyond or transcend the confines of convention. I think that’s what great writers have done, that is, blazed their own trail, such as some of my favorite authors and poets like Willa Cather, George Eliot, William Shakespeare, Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickenson, Jane Austen, and Maya Angelou, to name a few.
6. “To succeed in life, you need three things, a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone.” This quote comes from Reba McEntire. To have a wishbone means that one has been lucky and worked hard toward accomplishing one’s goals. To have a backbone is tantamount to saying that one will not go along to please the crowd, but will stand up for one’s beliefs and moral principles.
And, finally, to have a funny bone implies one doesn’t take oneself too seriously and can laugh at one’s own foibles. Dogs are not the only creatures who enjoy a good bone. Make no bones about it. Happy and successful are those humans who possess all three of these "bones."
Richard Penaskovic is an emeritus professor at Auburn University, who taught religious studies for 30 years.